Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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America must invest in R and D, personnel for arms control verification

The Big Science model continues to drive innovation at our nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories where the country’s nuclear-detection expertise resides.
October 26, 2018
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test on Feb. 20, 2016, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force via AP)

America must invest in R and D, personnel for arms control verification

by Nancy Jo Nicholas

Even a century ago, when a nation’s military might could be measured by conspicuous assets such as tanks and battleships, confirming their numbers was difficult. Today, when possession of even a small amount of nuclear material can make a nation a formidable adversary, verification is even harder.

Given this, we need to actively pursue state-of-the-art physics to provide tools to ensure nations are complying with international treaties. Without those tools, we stand exposed to new threats that could slip under the shield of an unverifiable treaty.

We learned this lesson in the Cold War with the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963. Signed by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom in August 1963, it prohibited nuclear weapons tests “or any other nuclear explosion” in the atmosphere, outer space and underwater. The only problem: We couldn’t verify it — not yet anyway; the technology didn’t exist.

Scientists and engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory had been working to develop nuclear detonation-detection satellites for four years, but they weren’t ready. So they did what they had to do: They moved quickly.

This story first appeared in Defense News.